Montreal

Montreal architects get $500K to show how Canada's cities hide in plain sight on screen

Canada hopes to make a splash at the 2020 Venice Biennale in Architecture by sending a team of Montrealers who'll show how Canadian cities masquerade as other locales in film and television.

Architecture team wins Canada Council grant to bring Impostor Cities to prestigious event in Venice

Impostor Cities will be inside the Canada pavilion at the Venice Biennale in Architecture from May to November 2020. (Submitted by the Canada Council )

Canada hopes to make a splash at the 2020 Venice Biennale in Architecture by sending a team of Montrealers who'll show how Canadian cities masquerade as other locales in film and television.

This week, the Canada Council for the Arts announced that Montreal architecture and design studio T B A will represent Canada at the prestigious event with their project Impostor Cities — which will be curated by David Theodore, the Canada Research Chair in Architecture at McGill University.

Tom Balaban is one of the co-founders of T B A and he has gotten used to spotting Canadian cities hiding in plain sight in films and television.

He said often, the shot of a building in Toronto or Montreal will be spliced in with three or four other buildings to create what is supposed to be another city entirely.

The practice is so widespread that spotting Canada has become a kind of game within architecture circles.

Thomas Balaban is an architect, founding partner at T B A and an associate professor at Université de Montréal. (Submitted by T B A)

"We're not the only ones," Balaban said. "I'm sure everybody who notices familiar buildings in films probably has had this discussion with their friends."

Impostor Cities will include supercuts of architecture in Canadian cities appearing on screen dating back to the 1950s.

He said that it's rare for cities in the United States and Europe to play anything but themselves — London is London, New York is New York — but Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, for example, can be anywhere.

He said a big reason why is the variety of architectural styles present in Canadian cities.

"We've kept these buildings. We haven't demolished them," he said.

But Canada isn't alone and increasingly, "Eastern Europe also has started playing this this impostor game."

Getting to Venice

A jury for the Canada Council selected the Impostor Cities project to go to Venice, and with that, $500,000 will go toward both creating the exhibition, and the work involved in being its commissioner.

Carolyn Warren, the director of the Canada Council's arts granting programs, said working as commissioner to Imposter Cities means supporting the team as they build the exhibition and send it to Venice.

"Just getting things on and off boats is a challenge in that city," she said.

The Canada Council will help organize the opening ceremony for the exhibition and make sure Canada's contribution achieves the highest profile possible, Warren said.

The Venice Biennale in Architecture was established in 1980 and brings together architects from around the world to showcase their projects in different pavilions. It will run from May to November of next year.

Warren said it's difficult to get noticed, but thinks Impostor Cities is just the kind of work that will make a splash.

For Balaban and the team, now that they are officially headed to Italy, the real work on the project begins.

That means planning and designing the exhibition, getting the rights to show clips from movies and shows, marketing, and writing essays for a book accompanying it.

"It just makes us want to drop everything and work on this for the next year," Balaban said.

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